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In this gallery you can hear voices from the 1880s. Featured here is the only known recording of Alexander Graham Bell, created in 1885. “Hear my voice,” Bell declares, from a time when listening to recorded sound was not today’s commonplace, but an amazing new experience.

Bell’s contemporary Thomas Edison had invented the phonograph in 1877, and, with it, a whole new kind of content-rich document: the sound recording. Never before had sounds been stored and then heard again.

A treasure trove of experimental recordings from Bell’s laboratory, preserved but silent for over a century, survives at the Smithsonian. Thanks to a technology developed only a decade ago, the content of some of those records can now be heard. In the process, we have gained a new way to understand the past—not just by looking at documents, but also by listening to them.

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